Free-agent pitcher Jeff Francis drawing interest
Canadian left-hander's agent expects a 'ton' of interest in off-season
Jeff Francis is preparing for a long winter, and it probably has more to do with the anticipation of some sleepless nights that come with a newborn in the house than the unpredictability of baseball’s free-agent landscape.
The Vancouver pitcher was one of 148 major leaguers who became free agents on Oct. 30, and as of 12:01 a.m. ET Thursday, able to sign with any of the 30 major league teams.
The 30-year-old Francis isn’t sure what to expect in his second consecutive off-season as a free agent after waiting until mid-January of this year to reach a one-year, $2-million US deal with the Kansas City Royals. His agent, however, offered a brighter outlook.
"I think there’s going to be a ton of interest, based on conversations I’ve already had," Jim Lindell of Frontline Sports Management said over the phone from Seattle. "I’d say over the course of the last week or so I’ve heard from three or four teams."
Top free agents
- Albert Pujols, 1B
- Prince Fielder, 1B
- Jose Reyes, SS
- C.J. Wilson, SP
- Mark Buehrle, SP
- Roy Oswalt, SP
- David Ortiz, DH
- Hiroki Kuroda, SP
- Jimmy Rollins, SS
- Carlos Beltran, OF
- Aramis Ramirez, 3B
- Heath Bell, RP
- Kelly Johnson, 2B
- Josh Willingham, OF
- Jonathan Papelbon
Lindell won’t shut the door on the left-handed pitcher returning to Kansas City, even though both he and Francis’s most recent discussions with Royals management occurred at the end of September.
Lindell believes it wouldn’t make sense to talk to only one team, especially with a market littered with back-end starters like Francis, whom he said would be affordable to all teams after making $3.65 million this past season including incentive bonuses.
"I visited Jeff at his home in Denver last week and we walked through all the scenarios," Lindell said. "I’ve identified 15 or 16 teams that I think are most likely going to be interested in a guy like him and I’ll reach out to all of them at the end of this week."
That includes the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers, whom Lindell confirmed as having interest in Francis last winter.
Little run support
In an interview this week, Francis said he would "love" to remain a member of an up-and-coming Royals team that provided little run support at times in 2011 and played a part in the hurler’s 6-16 record over 31 starts.
He also said the Royals’ decision to fire pitching coach Bob McClure at the end of September wouldn’t discourage him from re-signing. McClure first worked with Francis in the Colorado Rockies’ minor league system before joining the Royals after the 2005 season.
"Working with Mac was tremendous for me this year. He was a big help," said Francis, who is expecting child No. 2 with his wife Allison in late December. "I like his style. He talks a lot about mental approach, pitching and not a lot about physical things that can get inside your head."
Francis posted a 4.82 earned-run average, but more importantly, he remained healthy for a full season after missing the entire 2009 campaign following surgery to repair a torn labrum in the shoulder joint. He logged 183 innings, the most since 2007 when he won 17 games and helped the Colorado Rockies reach the World Series.
"I learned a lot about keeping myself healthy and, working with Mac, I learned more about what I can do on the mound to be successful: how to pitch to hitters, how to work with my teammates on learning what they do and vice-versa," said Francis, who tailored his shoulder strengthening program to handle the increased innings and maintain arm strength built last off-season.
"I think I felt better in September than I did in April. I never quit throwing. I keep throwing a couple times a week to keep my arm loose.
"I’m letting the [workout] routine change and letting how I feel decide what I’m going to do," continued Francis, who added a cut fastball to his arsenal late this season with the help of McClure. "A big thing for me now is listening to the way my arm feels, the way my body feels."
A few years removed from surgery, Francis is no longer the pitcher who throws 90 miles per hour for most of a game. He’s in the 85-87 range, Lindell said, making him a nice complement to a starting rotation of hard-throwing right-handers.
Lindell noted Francis would be better served if he was the third or fourth guy in the rotation rather than at the front of the rotation like he was in Kansas City, where he often was matched up against Detroit Tigers’ Cy Young Award favourite Justin Verlander and other top pitchers in the Central Division.
"We’re kind of prepared for it to go a long time like it did last winter," Francis said. "We have to be prepared for offers to come in early or if they take a while not to panic. …The main thing is I want to go out and play baseball."